Sleep Disorders Dictionary

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on September 20, 2023
3 min read

Here are definitions of sleep-related terms:

Cataplexy: Symptom of narcolepsy; consists of a sudden loss of muscle tone that leads to feelings of weakness and a loss of voluntary muscle control.

Central sleep apnea: Sleep disorder in which the airway is not blocked, but the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe.

Chronotherapy: A behavioral technique in which bedtime is gradually adjusted; used in cases when the patient's sleep-wake pattern is out of sync with the external environment.

Circadian rhythms: Biological rhythms that include the internal clock which influences when, how much, and how well people sleep.

Cognitive therapy: In some cases of insomnia, this therapy includes interventions that are meant to help people identify and correct inappropriate thoughts and beliefs that may contribute to their sleep problems.

CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure): A device that is an effective treatment for sleep apnea patients; delivers air into airways through a specially designed face or nasal mask or pillows.

Mixed sleep apnea: A combination of central sleep apnea and obstructive sleep apnea.

Multiple sleep latency test (MSLT): Test that assesses the severity of sleepiness by measuring the speed of falling asleep.

Narcolepsy: A neurological condition in which people experience excessive daytime sleepiness, cataplexy, sleep paralysis, hallucinations, and intermittent, uncontrollable sleep attacks during the day.

Non 24-hour sleep-wake disorder: A circadian rhythm disorder in which the sleep-wake pattern does not conform to the usual 24-hour cycle.

Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep: One of the two basic states of sleep; consists of stages 1, 2 (light sleep) and 3 (deep sleep).

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA): The most common kind of sleep apnea. It is caused by a blockage of the upper airway that causes the body to struggle to get air.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD): A disorder in which rhythmic jerking of the legs interrupts sleep, causing insomnia and/or excessive daytime sleepiness.

Parasomnias: Abnormal behaviors during sleep that interrupt sleep and can result in injury, insomnia, and/or excessive daytime sleepiness.

Polysomnography: A test that records aspects of sleep (for example, the amount of NREM and REM sleep, the number of arousals) and a variety of body functions during sleep, including breathing patterns, heart rhythms, and limb movements.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): Relaxation method that involves tensing and relaxing muscles of the body in a given order, ultimately to achieve relaxation of the whole body; useful in some cases of insomnia.

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep: One of the two basic states of sleep. REM sleep, also known as dream sleep, is characterized by rapid eye movements, and more irregular breathing compared to NREM sleep, the other basic state of sleep.

Sleep apnea: Sleep disorder that occurs when a person's breathing temporarily stops during sleep.

Sleep hygiene: Practices, habits, and environmental factors that are important for getting sound sleep.

Sleep paralysis: Symptom of narcolepsy; involves the temporary inability to move or speak while falling asleep or waking up. May also be caused by sleep deprivation, irregular sleep patterns, family history, and other causes.